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Sia faces backlash from autism community over new film, work with controversial group

Written by on November 20, 2020


Sia is at the center of controversy — just a day after releasing the trailer for her upcoming film, Music. It comes as people on Twitter call the movie’s portrayal of a young woman with autism, played by dancer and actress Maddie Ziegler, “offensive” and “inaccurate.” Now, the Australian singer is responding by saying that she is “so confused” by the negativity toward the movie that she wrote and directed, while critics offer up the work of autistic actors to be praised instead.

”The news you’ve been waiting for!” Sia tweeted on Thursday morning, excitedly announcing the work of Kate Hudson, Leslie Odom Jr. and her longtime collaborator Ziegler on the film about a young woman named Zu who is left to take care of her teenage half-sister named Music. But as audiences discovered that the neurotypical Dance Moms alum was portraying a teenager with special needs, Sia’s excitement was met with immediate upset from those who condemned the casting choice.

“Can I ask why you didn’t cast a disabled actor for this part?” Irish actress Bronagh Waugh asked. “It’s pretty offensive the way you’ve chosen to portray this character. People with disabilities are not broken and don’t need fixing.”

Sia responded to say that she agreed with the comment and went on to say that she’s never referred to the character as “disabled,” but rather as someone with “special abilities.” However, “Casting someone at her level of functioning was cruel, not kind, so I made the executive decision that we would do our best to lovingly represent the community.”

But the singer’s response seemed to only spark more upset as people further questioned why it would be “cruel” to hire a disabled actor. One person even asked if Sia had consulted the community in order to understand that her comments were condescending, to which she wrote, “Duh. I spent three f***ing years researching, I think that’s why I’m so f***ing bummed.”

In response to those who called Ziegler’s portrayal of Music “inaccurate” and “inauthentic,” Sia said, “I’m so confused.”

Another follower stated “you need to consult actual autistic people and have autistic people play autistic people,” to which Sia responded, “I did try.”

She went on to say that she hired “plenty of special abilities kids” to work on the movie and even “tried working with” a girl on the spectrum before casting Ziegler.

“She found it unpleasant and stressful,” Sia said of the young girl.

When one woman responded to say that she and a number of other autistic actors would have been up for playing Music and called Sia out for making “zero effort” to include anybody with autism, Sia replied, “Maybe you’re just a bad actor.”

Representatives for both Sia and for the film didn’t immediately respond to Yahoo Life’s request for comment. However, organizations that work within the autism community took to Twitter to share their thoughts on the film.

The National Autistic Society, based in the UK, responded to say that “Sia has got this one wrong,” before listing out a number of autistic actors fit for the job.

The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) also responded to say “Don’t watch the Sia video.”

AAPD didn’t immediately respond to Yahoo Life’s request for comment. However, the organization highlighted the hashtag #ActuallyAutistic where people with autism are speaking out about their exclusion from the film and television industry as creators like Sia cast neurotypical actors to play their parts. It was there that people also spoke out about Sia’s alleged work with Autism Speaks — an autism advocacy organization that has long been criticized for the nature of its research and its own exclusion of people with autism on its board.

The communications director at Autism Speaks tells Yahoo Life that the organization “was not involved in the casting or production of the film, Music.” However, Sia made mention of the organization coming “on board” after the film was finished. She also showed support for the group by retweeting their message on World Kindness Day.

Someone quickly responded to say, “Unfortunately autism speaks is anything but kindness.”

Still, Sia continues to express her upset as the autism community speaks out. “F***ity f*** why don’t you watch my film before you judge it?” she wrote on Twitter. “FURY.”

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